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Pop! Still bright, bold and optimistic

Pop! British And American Art 1960 -1975, Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry, until June 3.

The Herbert Art Gallery couldn’t have chosen a better exhibition to kick off their ‘City of Culture’ programme .

It has everything we hope Coventry feels about winning the bid, and is proving a popular attraction. It is also surprising to find out that the majority of the exhibition is on loan from the Wolverhampton Art Gallery which has the largest collection of British Pop Art outside of London.​ The artworks were secured thanks to the youthful curator who had a passion for contemporary art,and the forward-thinking council who put faith in his judgment. A few pieces by Pop Art pioneer Andy Warhol make a welcome appearance, as does a later work by Roy Lichtenstein.

While these inclusions help to cement the trans-Atlantic nature of the movement, the images of Jack Kennedy and some disturbing works surrounding Che Guevara’s capture provide insight to the political context of the time. The Women’s Movement began in the 60s. Its impact on the way women were portrayed hadn’t reached most of the male artists at the time, so it was interesting to see British-born female artist Pauline Boty’s presentation of Marilyn Monroe. The large portrait, stands in contrast to the more familiar depictions of Monroe, by showing her in a more human light. What is striking when confronted by such a large collection of Pop Art is how much influence America had on the young British artists who wanted to break free from the post-war years.

The references to commercial images and celebrity are woven throughout, reminding us that these works were attempting to be an immediate response to a changing world.

It is also stirs the memory of the defiant youth movements that characterised the 60s in the minds of many. Pop Art intends to challenge, as does this collection. However, it would be hard to miss the energy and engagement with the wider world that characterises this generation of artist.

While there is plenty on offer for the nostalgic and those already acquainted with the movement, this exhibit’s most surprising quality is how relevant it appears to a new generation facing similar social, cultural, and political arguments in the modern day. Popular, transient, expendable, Pop Art still has its place in history, and is equally as thought provoking.

Photo: Georgia Ince.

Image: © Joe Tilson. All rights reserved, DACS 2018; courtesy of Wolverhampton Arts & Culture

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